2019 International Folk Music Awards

2019 International Folk Music Awards Show

The 2019 International Folk Music Awards (IFMAs) were held on Wednesday, February 13th, 2019, in the main ballroom of the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montréal, Canada.

The award show featured performances by Akwesasne Women Singers, Tanya Davis, Tri-Continental, The Good Lovelies and Mélinsande (électrotrad).

View IFMAs Livestream Here

Tom Power – Awards Show Emcee

Tom Power

The 2019 International Folk Music Awards ceremony was hosted by award-winning musician and broadcaster Tom Power.

Known initially for his national folk music program Deep Roots and his guest host role on As It Happens, Tom became the host of CBC’s highest-profile show q in October 2016 conducting interviews with music legends.

Off the air, Tom fronts Newfoundland powerhouse folk band The Dardanelles, has hosted and performed at major music festivals in Canada, and is a member of the Polaris Music Prize jury.

Annual “Best Of” Awards

The 2019 International Folk Music Awards Best Of categories include Artist of the YearAlbum of the Year, and Song of the Year. Finalists are compiled from “Best of 2018” radio and print media lists in the US, Canada, the UK, EU, and Australia in addition to the year-end NACC Folk and Folk DJ chart. 

*2018 Song of the Year is sponsored by American Songwriter and the 2018 Artist of the Year is sponsored by the Levitt Foundation.


People’s Voice Award – Buffy Sainte-Marie

The People’s Voice award is presented to an individual who unabashedly embraces social and political commentary in their creative work and public careers. Past recipients include Bruce Cockburn (2017) and Bonnie Raitt (2018).

Buffy Sainte-Marie, People's Voice award winner at the 2019 International Folk Music Awards

Buffy Sainte-Marie is a musician, visual artist, educator, activist, philanthropist, innovator, and folk icon. She has written pop standards that have been sung and recorded by the likes of Janis Joplin, Joe Cocker, First Aid Kit, and Elvis Presley, to name a few; penned “Universal Soldier,” the definitive anti-war anthem of the 20th century; recorded one of the world’s first electronic vocal albums; and spent five years on Sesame Street, where she became the first woman to breastfeed on national television. Buffy Sainte-Marie is also the first, and only, Indigenous woman to win an Academy Award. In 2018’s climate of damaging rhetoric and toxic hubris, Buffy Sainte-Marie’s incisive honesty, clarity, and intelligent compassion stand out in sharp relief.

After more than 50 years in the music industry, Buffy Sainte-Marie continues to be a thrilling and necessary artist and activist. She is the recipient of this year’s People’s Voice Award for the message in her music, her voice regarding Indigenous issues, cultural awareness, and the environment, her trailblazing role as a woman in the music industry, and for the continued work of her Nihwean Foundation and the Cradleboard Teaching Project.

*Folk Alliance International’s People’s Voice Award is not connected to, inspired by, or affiliated with any other entities that share the same name, or similar iteration of the title “The People’s Voice.”

Clearwater Award – Hillside Festival

The Clearwater award is presented annually to a festival that prioritizes environmental stewardship and demonstrates public leadership in sustainable event production. Past recipients include the Clearwater Festival (2017) and the Winnipeg Folk Festival (2018).

Hillside Festival, winner of the Clearwater award at the 2019 International Folk Music Awards

The Hillside Festival is a three-day, multi-stage event with a broad artistic vision that takes place at an accessible conservation area at Guelph Lake, Ontario.

The festival’s mission is to celebrate creativity through artistic expression, community engagement, and environmental leadership.

In the ’80s, Hillside made a commitment to continue greening initiatives on-site at the festival each year, designed to keep the earth clean and green and to include as many people as possible.

These initiatives include using hand pushed carts instead of golf carts on site, bike brigades to the festival, shuttle buses paid for by onsite parking charges, free potable water, solar-powered phone charging stations, pedal-powered stages, compost and recycling stations, reusable cups and cutlery with dishwashing facilities, and a living “green roof” on the Mainstage that doubles as a garden.

Hillside has won many awards for these initiatives, including Best Green Operations from Canadian Music Week, the Best Greening award from Festivals and Events Ontario, and the Grand River Conservation Authority’s highest distinction – the Honour Roll award.

To learn more about Hillside’s “Green Initiatives”, click here.

Lifetime Achievement Award Recipients

The Elaine Weissman Lifetime Achievement Awards are presented each year during the annual International Folk Music Awards. Recipients are determined by the voting members of FAI and are presented to a living recipient, a memorial recipient, and an organization or recognized academic.

Joni Mitchell, Lifetime Achievement Award winner for the 2019 International Folk Music Awards

Living: Joni Mitchell

Celebrated as one of the most influential women in music of the 20th century, Joni Mitchell was born in Fort Macleod, Alberta, Canada, and began actively pursuing a career in music after she moved to Toronto in her 20s. Her album Blue has been described as one of the greatest recordings of all time by NPR, The New York Times, and Rolling Stone Magazine.

Although her music has explored various genres, Mitchell has always remained close to her folk roots, often reflecting environmental and social issues. After winning a 1969 GRAMMY for Best Folk Performance, she slowly evolved her style to incorporate jazz fusion and pop rock elements. Her iconic songs “Both Sides Now,” “Circle Game,” “Free Man in Paris,” and “Big Yellow Taxi” are widely covered across all genres. A visual artist and entrepreneur, Mitchell produced and designed covers for most of her albums.

A nine-time GRAMMY awardee, she received a Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award and was inducted into both the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Legacy: Leonard Cohen

Born in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, Leonard Cohen began his career as a poet and novelist (The Spice Box of Earth, The Favourite Game, Beautiful Losers). Moving to New York City, he began a career as a songwriter, quickly being covered by his peers, most notably Judy Collins. Iconic songs include “Suzanne”, “So Long, Marianne”, “Bird on a Wire”, and “Hallelujah!”

An ordained Buddhist monk, his creative work was introspective and often centered on themes of spirituality, sexuality, and politics. Cohen once said in an interview, “I don’t consider myself a civilian. I consider myself a soldier.” He saw it his duty to keep politics close to his music and give light to the suffering and hopes of the world, no matter where they might be. His work is featured in multiple tribute albums including Tower of Song, I’m Your Fan, and Famous Blue Raincoat.

Cohen’s 60-year career firmly established his legacy in the music industry. He was the winner of five Juno and three Grammy Awards, was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, and is the recipient of the Order of Canada. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Recording Academy, was inducted into the Songwriter Hall of Fame, and received the prestigious Glenn Gould Prize.

Organization/Academic: fRoots

Originally named Southern Rag and later Folk Roots, fRoots is a quarterly magazine published in Bristol, England. The publication has always dedicated itself to discovering up-and-coming artists in the folk scene. Since its start in 1979, fRoots has regularly and punctually reported on breakthrough musicians.

Packed with features, news, reviews, tour schedules, and information on the UK and international scene, the publication is accompanied by a compilation album. There is also an online digital version with a downloadable version of the album. In 2018 it evolved to a quarterly format.

fRoots actively advocates on numerous music industry issues, has been involved in producing various benefit events, and regularly sponsor and promotes events in the UK. fRoots was the recipient of the Womex Award for Professional Excellence in 2010.

Spirit of Folk Award Recipients

The Spirit of Folk awards are presented annually to honor and celebrate people and organizations actively involved in the preservation, presentation, and promotion of folk music through their creative work, community building, and demonstrated leadership.

Alfredo Caxaj

When Alfredo Caxaj arrived in Toronto as a political refugee of Guatemala, he was astounded by the vibrancy and life offered by the city. It is this same feeling that Caxaj strives to bring to the city of London, Ontario every July and at concerts throughout the year as founder and Artistic Director of Sunfest. Alfredo has worked relentlessly to produce one of the largest festivals in Canada, and by keeping the festival free to all ages, he opens the world of folk to an audience who may not otherwise have access. Alfredo is a champion for diversity and inclusion, and he is committed to a rotating lineup that ensures up-and-coming artists are provided coveted performance opportunities. At conferences worldwide, he is first to hit the dance floor and is known as the guy waving his white towel.

Ellen Hamilton

In addition to leading her band, Night Sun, for almost 20 years, Ellen Hamilton is a film producer, director, and writer. Originally from southern Canada, she has dedicated her career to supporting the Inuit artists of the Canadian Arctic from her home in Iqaluit, on Baffin Island. She is the current Executive Director of Qaggiavutt, a society dedicated to building a rehearsal and performance space in Nunavut; the only territory in North America to not have an arts center. She also leads the Qaggiq Project to bring traditional artists to the world stage. For her life of advocacy and promotion of traditional Inuit performance she has been honored with the Order of Nunavut, and the Order of Canada.

Gilles Garand

Gilles Garand has led a life of service dedicated to workers’ rights and the promotion of folk music. His 20-year career as a trade union adviser for the Confederation of National Trade Unions focused on uniting workers through song. A life-long resident of Montréal, Gilles has worked as chairman of the Society for the Promotion of Quebec Traditional Dance, is the president of Folquébec, and a former board member of FAI. He is also the founder of La Grande Rencontre, a festival of traditional Québécois music, which celebrated its 26th year last September. Gilles is an avid musician, and his promotion of traditional music and culture has been featured in multiple publications. He is looking forward to handing over the reins of many projects to the next generation.

Matt Smith

Since his start in 1995 at the legendary folk club, Passim, in Boston’s Harvard Square, Matt Smith has touched the lives and careers of thousands of artists in his role as a presenter, organizer, and passionate music community member. In addition to booking the legendary venue, he has been an industry panelist, juror, and a mentor to emerging artists. His insatiable love of music, interest in cultivating community, and keen ear for curation led him to launch the annual Campfire Festival over two decades ago, providing a gathering place to showcase east-coast emerging talent. Matt has volunteered multiple terms on the Board of Directors of FAI, serving two years on the Executive Committee before his two-year role as Board President during which he oversaw the board creation of the 2018-2021 Strategic Plan.

Michael Wrycraft

Michael Wrycraft’s reputation for fine work, coupled with his tirelessly cheerful attitude, has made him the graphic designer of choice among the folk music industry for nearly three decades. His signature style is widely celebrated, earning him a Juno Award, a Hamilton Music Award, two Independent Music Awards, and multiple nominations. In addition to working with FAI from 1998 to the 2018 conference, Michael’s designs can be seen on countless album covers and event posters throughout the folk industry. A pillar of the folk community, Michael continues to share his love of folk music on his weekly radio shows, From Cover to Cover and Radio Wrycraft, and at his regular tribute nights at Toronto’s premier folk club, Hugh’s Room.

ShoShona Kish

Just as folk music defies societal norms, ShoShona Kish is constantly surprising anyone who attempts to put her in a box. Rejecting a lifetime of colonial expectations, ShoShona openly explores topical, and often uncomfortable issues, treating music as a call to action in her musical duo, Digging Roots. In 2017, she co-organized ‘Anishinaabekwe’, a touring performance commissioned by the National Art Centre to showcase the diversity in Indigenous performers. She currently serves as the President of Folk Music Canada, and is spearheading the inaugural International Indigenous Music Summit at this year’s Folk Alliance International conference. Earlier this fall she received the 2018 Professional Excellence award from WOMEX.

Sonny Ochs

Sonny is an acclaimed music producer and radio host. She is known for organizing the “Phil Ochs Song Nights” in memory of her activist brother, singer-songwriter Phil Ochs. While an English teacher in Brooklyn, she stumbled into a career as a disc jockey, spinning folk records for WFMU and WRPI. Sonny has hosted a radio program called Folk Music & Other Stuff since the 1980s and currently hosts a program on WIOX. Sonny volunteers at numerous folk festivals and conferences. She is the founder and host of the Wisdom of the Elders panel, a recorded interview-style panel event with senior folk music community leaders which she has presented at FAI, regional conferences, and Folk Music Ontario.

Sofia Rei

Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and based in New York City, Sofia Rei ties together musical influences from South America, jazz, and electronica. Singing mostly in Spanish, she has performed in theaters and festivals worldwide and her workshops often include educational components revealing the socio-cultural roots and cross-pollination of music. Sofia has worked with Berklee College of Music’s Global Initiatives since 2011 and is now an Assistant Arts Professor at the very prestigious Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music (at NYU) where she teaches Performance, Musicianship and a class on New Perspectives in Latin American Music.

Folk DJ Hall of Fame Inductees

The Folk DJ Hall of Fame recognizes radio DJs who have made an outstanding contribution to the preservation, presentation, and promotion of folk music, and who have demonstrated and inspired leadership in the broadcast field.

Bob Harris

“Whispering” Bob Harris OBE has been at the very heart of UK music scene for the best part of fifty years. He has established a worldwide reputation as one of the most trusted and influential broadcasters of his generation – described by Radio Times as “…one of the greats of British contemporary music broadcasting” and by The Mail On Sunday as “a national treasure.” Few people have taken as many bands into mainstream consciousness as Bob Harris – from his groundbreaking work in the 1970’s on BBC Radio 1 and the legendary Old Grey Whistle Test TV shows to his current program Bob Harris Country on BBC Radio 2. Iconic artist Robert Plant stated, “He champions the unknown, the obscure and legendary with equal zest and detail.”

Matt Watroba

As a radio host and performer, Matt Watroba has spent most of his adult life sharing his knowledge and passion for folk music with just about anyone who would listen. He made his radio debut as producer and host of the popular Folks Like Us program, a show that ran for over two decades on Detroit public radio. He has interviewed hundreds of performers, from Pete Seeger to Townes Van Zandt, and he has hosted and produced syndicated shows for Sing Out! Magazine and Folk Alley. Matt has contributed programming to WEMU in Ypsilanti, MI, WKSU in Kent, OH, and is currently on WKAR in East Lansing, MI.

Wanda Fischer

Born in Tennessee and raised in the Boston area, Wanda Fischer learned about folk music as a child from her father, who was a close friend of members of the Carter Family. During the 1960s, she frequented the Boston-area coffeehouses, sometimes as a performer, sometimes a spectator. In 1975, she volunteered at a community radio station and found herself doing a folk music show on the air for four years. After moving to the Albany, New York area in 1982, WAMC-FM, a major NPR affiliate, finally acquiesced and gave her a spot on Saturday night, following A Prairie Home Companion. She’s been on the air since then with The Hudson River Sampler for the past 36 years, for a total of 40 years in radio. She still plays and sings sometimes, for fun now.